08 April 2009

Inconsistent? Absolutely.

Blogger Max Wilson argued a while back that the Church was not inconsistent to defend polygamy but fight same-sex marriage because natural law supports the former but not the latter. Since many people continue to believe the Church is inconsistent in this regard, I thought the question was worth examining and Wilson's argument worth a response even though his discussion is a bit old.

Granted, it is not necessarily inconsistent to claim that natural law sanctions one type of behavior and prohibits another. And that would be a compelling argument in defense of the Church's actions IF there were a commonly accepted definition of natural law that led inexorably to those actions.

But there is no such consensus. Definitions of natural law have been all over the map since before Plato's time. That's why, though some analysis of natural law formed a basis for the writings of Jefferson and other Founders of our country, none of them tried to write "natural law" itself into the Constitution of the United States or any of its other laws. They recognized that fluid, fluctuating, debatable, and differing ideas of "natural law" are fine as philosophy and sources of competing moral principles, but they are impossible as actual real world statutes with which real people's actions must comply. In the real world there must be documented, defined agreement on standards, details and definitions because laws must be written, debated, and voted on in order to take effect.

So even if Wilson is right that the Church's motivations have a consistent basis, the Church's actions are not mutually consistent. Once upon a time, it fought nearly to the death against state action to prohibit the Church from adopting its own particular form of marriage which differed radically from what the rest of the country knew "natural law" required. Now the Church itself finances and supports state action to prohibit others from adopting their own form of marriage which differs radically from what the Church says "natural law" requires. In the 19th Century the Church said "how does our alternative type of marriage hurt yours? Just leave us alone!" Now in the 21st Century the Church rejects the arguments of same-sex partners who want only those marital rights already enjoyed by others and who say "how does our alternative type of marriage hurt yours? Just leave us alone!"

If the Church is "consistent" in relying on natural law as supporting polygamy but not same-sex marriage, then that means ultimately for the Church, the absolute bedrock non-negotiable foundational requirement for marriage is the joining of opposite genders. Whether two or more persons are involved takes a back seat to the ironclad requirement that to be a marriage, it must be male-female. Apparently everything else can fluctuate but not this. No doubt such inflexibility rests on Doc. & Cov. Section 132:19, which is probably the most important single verse in the entire LDS scriptural canon if current Church programs and practices are any indication. Everything in the current corporate Church revolves around it.

But there are some problems with what the Church has done as a result of this motivation.

First, it has successfully leveraged its members' finances to write into secular law a religiously based definition of marriage and in the process stripped from a specifically targeted people an existing civil right. This is unprecedented in American history. And how supremely ironic that this was done by a church which was itself once threatened with legal extinction for precisely the same reason it now attacks as a "threat to civilization": it chose to adopt and advocate a form of marriage that others didn't like.

Second, requiring that everyone, LDS or not, adhere to a particular form of marriage because the Doc. & Cov. says that only men & women sealed in the temple will receive exaltation essentially imposes a religious standard on everyone in a secular society, even those who have no interest in or desire to follow LDS standards or beliefs. I don't see how this can be defended in light of the 11th Article of Faith or Doc. & Cov. 134:9 which says we don't believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government.

Third, for Latter-day Saints to flatly reject even time-only secular civil law-based same-sex marriage because of religious belief grounded in Doc & Cov 132:19 suggests that no marriage which differs from a temple marriage is quite as legitimate. That is a dangerous position for LDS to take. How many temple marriages are maintained in form only by spouses who are desperately unhappy and have no desire to be shackled to their spouse for eternity? How many end in divorce? How many temple-wed spouses find their faith, individually or together, taking a different direction over time than that which initially took them to the temple? How many "temple marriages" have not been "sealed by the holy spirit of promise" as the Doc. & Cov. requires for efficacy and thus will not in fact be binding in the next life? How many include spouses who are gay and who followed the Church's advice to "just get married and everything will be all right," and thus inadvertently doomed themselves and their spouses to a life of misery? Is form really that much more important than substance? Does the Church seriously insist that God would want any of His children to go through such a charade--which ultimately won't profit them anyway--rather than have actual happiness and fulfillment in this life? (I should say here that I have boundless respect for those Saints who are in mixed orientation marriages and choose to stay and honor those commitments, and I mean absolutely no disparagement toward them whatsoever. They are amazing.)

Statistically speaking, the number of people who marry in the temple in this life and have that marriage ratified by the Spirit will be microscopic. The Doc. & Cov. says that everyone else will be relegated to angel status, servants forever to those who were worthy of a greater weight of glory. That sounds pretty final. During mortality, marry in the temple to someone of the opposite gender or else sorry, zap, angel status, next please. If that section alone were authoritative, then a huge majority of God's children would have cause to be rather depressed.

Yet God loves all His children equally, right? And the whole purpose of proxy ordinances in the temple is to make possible for every one of them every eternal blessing that God could possibly stretch His mercy and justice to bestow, is it not? Doesn't the Church teach that those who didn't or couldn't marry in the temple in this life through no fault of their own will still have every possible blessing available to them in the eternities, though the Church itself isn't quite sure how?

So I ask in all good faith, not because I think I already have the answer, but because I don't, and I want the Church to tell me this. If I or anyone else knows that we simply cannot sustain a temple marriage in this life, we cannot in good faith make those covenants because the desires of our heart are not for a person of the other gender, then we are incapable of complying with what the Doc. & Cov. says is an absolute requirement for ultimate exaltation. If we take Doc. & Cov. 132:19 at face value, as it appears the Church does, then we have no hope for the kind of exaltation that allows eternal increase. And that would deny the equal love and justice of God for all His children, because He would have set a standard for the highest rewards that millions of His children simply cannot meet.

In such circumstances, what possible good purpose is served by trying to prohibit these children of God from at least seeking a happy, fulfilling relationship in this life even if it may not last in the eternities? If someone is honest about being unable to comply with the temple marriage standard in this life because they are gay and didn't choose to be, why rub salt in the wound and insist that they then condemn themselves to a life of loneliness and self-denial? What possible purpose does that serve, either now or in the eternities? I know the results: the sad, frightened, confused, lonely, despairing eyes of every gay member of the Church who wants to be faithful to the gospel but realizes that the price is to give up their honesty, integrity, their sense of self, and their hopes for happiness in this life. It is not good for man to be alone, said God. Yet what God said is not good is precisely what the Church says its gay members must do if they want an eternal reward from that same God who said what they're doing isn't good, a reward that the Church itself can't even define.

If the Church makes generous allowances for those who can't marry in the temple for other reasons, why not for this? Why insist that gay members deny themselves ANY companionship or happiness if they have the integrity to acknowledge that in this life at least they're incapable of the temple standard? If God really will change them to be heterosexual in the next life as Lance Wickman theorizes, why would it matter that during mortality they at least had the happiness and comfort of a spouse of their own gender if they couldn't comply with the temple standard anyway? And if He won't change them and they will be gay in the eternities, then that means there is a HUGE gap in our current knowledge about eternal possibilities, Doc. & Cov. 132 is incomplete, and God must have some other solution in mind for His gay children. One I'm sure most conservative Mormons don't even want to think about. Gee, that 9th Article of Faith can really come back to bite you sometimes, can't it.

I'm guessing the quick & easy Sunday School answer to these questions would be "because marriage means sex, and sex between two people of the same gender is immoral and breaks the law of chastity." To which I respond: the LDS scriptural canon says nothing about homosexuality. And the handful of Biblical verses normally used to condemn it are at best arguably ambiguous and a strong case can be made that they do not in fact condemn what most Church members think they do. All post-restoration Presidents of the Church having grounded their condemnations of homosexuality on this shaky basis (and having made further claims about its origin and treatment which have proven disastrously wrong), how can today's Saints who are gay have any confidence in the Church's shifting stances or its painful prescriptions for their earthly behavior as the price of eternal happiness?

So I will differ with Mr. Power. While I love much about the Church and have faith in the gospel principles taught by the Savior, on this issue the Church has spoken and acted inconsistently. During the recent Prop 8 campaign it was profoundly disturbing to see senior Church leaders spreading half-truths, myths and scare tactics as part of the campaign. More inconsistency. As one of my fellow bloggers put it recently, the Church was willing to seek revocation of "the new and everlasting covenant" of plural marriage for the legal advantage of statehood, then turns a blind eye to the illegal immigration status of thousands of new converts in the U.S., and now vigorously campaigns to insert into secular civil law a religously based definition of marriage. Where is the consistency in "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law"?


Scot said...

"Of course, those who advocate same-sex marriage do not believe in natural law and therefore do not feel that it can be a factor in determining what should or should not be legal."

"Of course"? Funny.

A homosexual minority is every bit a part of natural law as heterosexuality, and every bit a part of creation (I thought that was the problem, the "natural" man). I mean, gay people aren't coupling up and raising children on bar bets.

Z i n j said...

Alan...keep up the battle. We are so blessed with men like you. You represent countless valiant spirits both born and unborn. You represent their hopes and dreams. Stay Gold. Keep that pacific breeze in your face.